After a good start on my Kwacka in practice, it was a Gixer 750 that got me through the weekend.
It all started well on the Friday. The weather was dry, although conditions were a bit cold and windy, making riding more difficult, but at least we didn’t have to deal with any rain. The weather was looking good for the whole weekend and I was looking forward to getting stuck in – and get the ZX7R really going – on Donington Park’s long circuit. It’s never been my favourite layout; I’ve never been able to crack it with the two extra long straights and the Melbourne loop.
Getting ready for a busy day, everything started well with ZX7R.
Anyway, I fired up the Kwacka – with the new Nova gearbox and stiffer valve springs in – for the first session and the bike was absolutely on-song. The gear changing was on another level and in the second session I was revving it right up to the limiter – the bike was really flying. In the third session I really started to push it to achieve some respectable lap times and on the very last lap I heard a clattering noise from the cylinder head at Redgate – not good. I immediately switched off the engine and coasted to a halt near the Old Hairpin. I knew it was bad – I felt sick.
Back in the garage, me and my Dad quickly set about taking the top end off to have a look. We discovered oil and water in the air-box; delving in further, we found a broken inlet valve in number 1 cylinder. Despair once again, but it was a Suzuki 750cc Gixer SRAD, that Martin Stanier used to ride last year, that would be my saviour.
It was built and owned by Andrew Plaskitt, Martin’s friend and mechanic. He said it was in the back of his van and that I could ride it round just to get points. Well, it was better than going home, so I thought I’d give it a go. At first I was unsure riding someone else’s bike, especially when it’s so beautifully prepared – but after a few adjustments, here and there, it started to feel a lot better.
Andrew – ‘Drew’ as he likes to be called – was great, he just said, ‘Do what you need to do with it to make it feel right, don’t worry”. So we put new tyres on and dropped the forks in the yolks to get it turn quicker for qualifying on Saturday.
It was going really well and I managed to put it on pole. Everyone was dead chuffed, and my confidence started to return.
Unlucky garage number 22, every bike in here had an issue: Our ZX7R, Martin Stanier and Vince Carlton crashed – his Ducati never got to run properly after – and his son’s R6 had a massive clutch seizure.
Not unlucky for some, more like unlucky for all.
Poor Martin had a nasty crash on practice day and ruined the frame of his R1 GP1 Classic. He managed to buy a second-hand one just a few miles from the circuit on ebay. Drew went to pick it up while the bike was stripped down. We all got stuck in to help and rebuild the bike in the garage. It was like an assembly line!
After a busy day on Saturday, Martin was ready for scrutineering on Sunday morning.
In Race 1 I was very nervous – more than usual – riding a bike that’s not your own you start to think “What if?” It’s horrible really.
Anyway, I knew that it was points that mattered and going for a win just wasn’t on my mind. I just wanted to get it across the line in one piece. I got off to a good start though and was in the lead for the first half of the race then Ryan Strafford came past me at Redgate.
Another great tussle with Ryan in the first race.
He tried it there on the earlier lap, and I out-braked him; when I saw him there again up the inside of me, I had no choice but to let him go. I followed him home in second place. We both set good lap times too – 1.37’s – in an enjoyable close race.
The first prize of the day was a second place trophy for me and the storming Suzuki.
In the afternoon the wind had started to drop and the conditions were good. I got another great start and the Suzuki was beginning to feel like an old friend, light and nimble through the second section - my times were very fast through there. However, it was the long sections and the Melbourne loop that were giving me problems again. The Gixer was awesome everywhere, but without a slipper clutch I was finding it difficult under hard braking to get her stopped without the back end skipping and sliding around. I managed to find a way to settle her down by really blipping the engine before going down the gears; it helped but it wasn’t perfect, or easy. My pit board told me that I was about 1 to 1.5 seconds in front all the way through the race, so I just focused on not making mistakes and I brought it home – first across the line. I’d lead the race from lights to flag; I was very happy. So was everyone who’d helped me out.
I still had sad feelings though, for my Kawasaki that sat at the back of the caravan – side lined for the weekend.
On the Sunday it was very windy again. This made it hard going down Craner Curves even in the warm-up session, the bike wanted to lift at times, I never knew when it was going to do it, and when it wasn’t.
Ready to go on the front row for Sunday morning’s race.
The first race saw Ryan Strafford on pole after just nicking fastest lap on Saturday, but I got a blistering start and was first into Redgate. Unknown to me, Pearson and Byard on GP1 Classic bikes, had placed themselves between Ryan Strafford and me. I was able to put some distance between Ryan and myself, but I was always under threat for the overall win from Pearson’s R1 and the super fast Gixer 750 ridden by Byard. I managed to hold them off until the final lap when Byard took the lead at Redgate. When I realised it was a GP1 classic bike I didn't put myself under any pressure to take back the lead knowing I could still win my own class. I followed him closely home to take the win for Golden Era Superbikes, maximum points and fastest lap.
No matter what you’re riding it’s great to be on the podium again.
Late in the afternoon for the last race it had got a little cooler. I was happy with that because the previous race on a warmer circuit had made things a bit slippery, especially on the new tarmac at Redgate and Craner.
Another great start got me to Redgate corner first again in a race which I was never threatened, or pushed. My pit board told me that I was increasing my lead on every pap, so I just kept my head down and concentrated on braking, cornering and keeping it all nice and smooth. Drew had built a proper superbike, and I was so proud to bring it across the line a full 10 seconds ahead of the competition. I was elated, crossing the line punching the air with both fists – scaring my Mum, who’d come to watch and help out over the weekend. It was a very happy Mother’s Day for her when it was all over.
Drew was the first in Park Ferme to congratulate me - we’d did it - and I couldn’t have done it without his help.
Me, Andrew Plaskitt and a rewarding haul of silverware after a good days work.
I still couldn’t shake off the mixed feelings of emotions though, with work to do again on my Kawasaki, not knowing how much, or how bad the damage would be is something that hung over me all the way home.
We’ll see what the future brings and hope we can get the bike sorted for Snetterton in a month’s time. Fingers crossed.